Analysis: A day when Hampden felt like Hampden should

Scott Brown sinks to the turf in ecstasy as Nir Button and Fraser Forster race to join in at the final whistle. Picture: PA
Scott Brown sinks to the turf in ecstasy as Nir Button and Fraser Forster race to join in at the final whistle. Picture: PA
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It was impossible to tear your eyes from this revival of an old show in Mount Florida from the moment Scott Brown started throwing shade while going down the line at the pre-match handshakes. That was about the only time Celtic managed to go toe-to-toe with Rangers in an impossibly one-sided opening hour.

So quite why Brown was the one climbing the steps to receive the trophy at around 5pm will keep counsellors occupied for years to come as Rangers fans try to fathom what on earth happened here. Is it something they did in a past life?

Celtic fans will reply emphatically that it was. This was supposed to relaunch Rangers after the so-called “banter years”. Instead, it will haunt them.

Steven Gerrard, whose Ibrox contract extension is due to be announced today, will still be processing the manner of this loss when he is Liverpool manager. What was it that Tommy Burns said about Andy Goram? And so it was here for Gerrard: “Fraser Forster broke my heart.”

That slip against Chelsea has been reduced to a minor irritation. The time ten men won the cup is the flashback that will keep Gerrard up at night.

Hopefully, in time, some consolation will be sourced from knowing he was part of an afternoon that a good football man like him will recognise for what it was. Utterly compelling. Viewers in England looked in, were reminded of something that’s been lost and thought: I’ll have some of that.

A lot of this was very old school, including Rangers not giving possession back after Celtic had played the ball out for Christopher Jullien to receive treatment. Ryan Kent scuttled off with the ball to a volley of boos.

Broadcaster Danny Baker was moved to tweet that “the Rangers Celtic match should be compulsory viewing for all those gargoyles still in favour of VAR. It is like the Wild West and makes the current Premier League offerings look like clockwork sterile anaemic pap they most often are now.”

It was true. It was one of those occasions when Hampden felt like Hampden should – and probably always did in the 1970s and beyond. The swirling rain and refusal of around 75 per cent of the crowd to sit added to the effect.

While Baker is a vocal opponent of refereeing the game remotely, Rangers supporters desperately wished the option of going to a studio in a business park in Rutherglen was available to referee Willie Collum given the manner of the winning goal. Goalscorer Jullien was only one of three Celtic players who had strayed offside.

Never mind outside Hampden, at times it seemed like there was barely anyone refereeing the game from inside the ground. Collum decided to be as laissez-faire as possible. Ryan Jack, meanwhile, played on despite leaving half his knee in the Hampden turf. Jonny Hayes’ shinguards fluttered up after a challenge and he carried on without them, socks round his ankles.

Kick-off took place in clouds of pyro smoke from the west end of the ground – have Rangers not learned from the last time they played in a final, just over three years ago? But this time no one emerged from the mist to put them one down within minutes, a la Anthony Stokes for Hibs at the Scottish Cup final in 2016. Rather, their opponents, in this case Celtic, seemed to perform a disappearing act.

Literally so, in the case of Mohamed Elyounoussi, who paid the price for a lacklustre first half and was not seen again. But then Neil Lennon had cause to replace any of the ten outfield players who were being bailed out time and time again by Fraser “The Wall” Forster.

Had it not been for him, Celtic’s hopes would have gone up in a cloud of smoke by half-time. He continued to re-establish himself as a goalkeeper of worth. The nationwide interest in this game might well help revive his England international prospects. He was superb and would have walked the man of the match award even without the pivotal penalty stop that denied Alfredo Morelos a first goal against Celtic.

The pick of his saves was when he clawed away a dipping effort by Ryan Jack in the first half. As he did so, the hoardings behind him suddenly switched to display an advert for a construction firm where the predominant graphic was… a brick wall. Eerie, huh? Another one came up soon afterwards: PTS Clean – The Cleaning Machine People.

Still, it seemed unlikely Forster would emerge with the spotless sheet he deserved, especially since Jeremie Frimpong was red-carded for the incident that handed Morelos a golden chance to end his Celtic jinx and put Rangers back on level terms.

The Celtic right-back received a gentle kiss to his head from Lennon as he departed. All this touchy-feely stuff on the touchline. What has Duncan Ferguson started?

Odsonne Edouard, not Frimpong, was the anointed one. He seems not to have to do very much at all to outdo Morelos. He came on after 58 minutes to the kind of roar that normally greets one of his goals. Celtic had become so overrun it was getting desperate. It’s more likely the plan was for Edouard to appear on the hour mark – managers are often quite OCD in this regard. But Celtic simply could not afford to wait those two extra minutes.

Remarkably, Celtic were actually leading by the end of the 60th minute. Edouard’s boot might not have connected with the ball. Nevertheless, the French striker deserved an assist at least for creating the euphoria that generated the atmosphere where the ball was almost sucked into the net at their end by the Celtic 
supporters.